I was walking to the cafe when I saw the sirens. Firetruck. Ambulance. Was someone hurt? As I neared the entrance they were wheeling him out. Eyes open, alert, gurney tilted to a seated position. I didn’t want to stare, I’ve been in similar shoes and I hated the stares. But as I was looking away, in the corner of my eye I caught the movement. The trembling shake, the arms not quite settled, and asked myself a question I already knew the answer to.
Walking into the cafe I saw the gawkers still staring out of the window at the ambulance. Someone asked the waitstaff what happened and the answer to my question was what I guessed: “He had a seizure.”
Yes, it’s a common phrase. But do people ever stop to think about what they’re saying?
When did he cease to be a human being and become a thing? Did he become an object to stare at and to pity the second he fell down convulsing?
I didn’t stay in the cafe. I didn’t feel comfortable among the pitying gawkers. I walked around the block, and in my mind I was rushing back to the ambulance to say something. To tell him, I know what it’s like. I get it. Me too. I see you. Not as a curiosity, not as an object. I see you as a person who sometimes trembles, who sometimes falls down, who sometimes needs a hand.
JUST LIKE EVERY ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE STARING AT YOU. At us.
We epileptics make people uncomfortable when we shake. We remind people how out of control life is. We remind them that at any minute they too could fall down, that they’re not as independent as they think they are. And that reminder, it terrifies them. We terrify them. So they distance themselves from us. We become poor things, Others.
In some cultures the epileptic is honored as a holy person. Seizures are a sign of connection to the Divine.
In my mind I went back to the cafe and addressed the gawkers.
Can you shift your gaze?
What if, instead of staring in pity and fear, you saw a person having a seizure as your teacher? As a holy messenger, telling you:
We need one another.
We all tremble, we all fall down, we all need a hand.